Historic house charms city couple

December 25, 2018

KANKAKEE — Aaron and Cathy Langlois love history, but it wasn’t until the spring 2015 when they realized just how strong of a connection they had with it.

The couple, who are lifelong residents of Kankakee County, were happily living in their 900-square-foot home in the 1000 block of South Third Avenue in Kankakee.

That situation existed until Cathy, 45, saw a house listing for 381 E. Bourbonnais St., in the city’s 2nd Ward. She was so captured by the photograph and some of the listing information that she just had to take a look.

“We weren’t even looking for a house,” she explained. “I saw the listing and for fun I said lets go take a look.”

The following day they did just that. Cathy had not even entered the house and she knew what was likely going to happen. She was going to buy this two-story, prairie school design, brick house.

The three-bedroom, 2,700-square-foot structure had simply grabbed the couple.

“I said ‘Let’s do it!’” she recalled.

Aaron, a 2000 graduate of Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, was on board as well, but he was somewhat more restrained. “How can we make this happen?” he asked.

“To find this house in its original design is so unreal,” he added.

Started in 1910 and completed in 1911, the house has basically been untouched. The woodwork was never painted. The wood floors never cut. Plaster walls not damaged by water or hammers. The house has seemingly existed in a vacuum.

Basically when the couple returned to the west Kankakee house and put pencil to paper. Aaron, a Dish Network technician, and Cathy, a Bourbonnais Elementary secretary, put their house up for sale.

The sale of their house went so well they had to move out before they were even ready to move into their new house which they were starting to learn so much of its historical significance.

As they have researched the properties history, they have moved into yet another unlikely director -- certainly one they never anticipated. The couple is working through the Kankakee County Historic Preservation Commission in an attempt to gain county historical landmark status.

The Kankakee County Board’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved the designation on Nov. 21. The only vote yet needed for county historic landmark status is from the full county board. That vote could come in January.

The couple already gained approval from the Kankakee City Council on this move.

If the designation can be met locally, Cathy, a 1991 grad of Kankakee High School, believes she will not stop there. She would like to take the matter to the state as well.

Historic designation helps preserve structure in as close to their original construction as possible. Property owners must gain approval from commissions before most any type of work is started on the house.

While some people could view that as a deterrent to seeking this status, many other see it as a way to preserve a historic structure for generations to come.

Known as the Foerster House for its original owners, Gustave and Louise (Radek) Foerster. The structure was designed by architect Edwin A. Seipp of Chicago.

Louise was the daughter of F.D. Radek of the Radeke Brewery, formerly of Kankakee.

The house boasts of large eaves, wheat-patterned stained glass windows, limestone window sills and a horizontal limestone band which surrounds the house under the upper windows.

The only significant change to the property, Aaron noted, is the loss of the garage or carriage house on the west side of the property. That portion of the property was sold at some point and another house was moved onto that area.

Aaron has been looking throughout the area for historic artifacts to use as decorations inside the house. He has found a few pieces and proudly puts them on display.

The husband and wife team seem to thoroughly enjoy their self-imposed charge of caring for this piece of history.

“We don’t have great means. We just do what we can,” Cathy said.

Regarding historic designations, they will simply hope for the best.

“We are going to proceed forward. All they can do is say no,” she said. And if that is the ultimate answer it will not charge the love the couple has for the home they basically stumbled across.

They also are aware there are those who think they are crazy for purchasing and caring for a home in a neighborhood that can best be described as questionable.

“People asked if we were serious about moving here. I like Kankakee. I have no problem with it,” she said. “This is our town. We are invested here.”

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